Summit County’s Nikki LaRochelle wins Power of Four women’s skimo race
The Aspen Times
The weather may have thrown the athletes for a curve ball, but it wasn’t enough to shake up the Audi Power of Four ski mountaineering race hierarchy on Saturday. Aspen locals John Gaston and Max Taam still own these mountains.
“They are the standard,” Crested Butte’s Cam Smith said of the dynamic duo. “If you come to the Power of Four, you got to go through them if you want to win. We knew that and we understood they were the favorites going in and didn’t expect to beat them, but you still have to show up.”
Gaston and Taam of team Strafe continued their dominance Saturday by winning the ninth annual Power of Four, a roughly 24-mile skimo race across the four Aspen Snowmass ski areas that includes more than 10,000 vertical feet of climbing.
Both longtime members of the United States Ski Mountaineering Association national team, this was Gaston’s seventh Power of Four victory and Taam’s sixth. Both missed the 2017 race because it coincided with the world championships, but returned last winter to break their own course record.
“It was definitely a different Power of Four than years past, and about as polar opposite as it can get from last year’s race,” Gaston said. “It was basically a completely neutralized ski tour with friends, all the way until the top of Highlands. You just couldn’t get a single gap because whoever was in front would be dealing with tremendous trail breaking issues.”
The 2018 race was notable because of an extreme lack of snow. There were times during that race the athletes had to take off their skis and physically run because there was no coverage, which may have helped carry Gaston and Taam to their record time of 4 hours, 37 minutes, 36 seconds.
The 2019 race had the opposite problem. With a foot of fresh snow in the bowl at Aspen Highlands on Saturday morning, that part of the race was taken out and athletes were diverted down Deep Temerity instead. This meant a bit was added to the Midnight Mine route up the backside of Aspen Mountain, the final of the four mountains in the race.
All of the extra snow also made for an interesting competition for the guys up front.
“It was hard to stay in that race mentality,” Gaston said. “You are not really working that hard when you are not breaking trail, and everyone was pretty good about sharing turns. So you’d do your turn and then shuffle back. There were I think five teams together all the way up Highlands.”
Gaston said he and Taam finally found some separation from the pack at the bottom of Temerity and, despite having to do some of their own trail breaking on Midnight Mine were able to hold on for yet another Power of Four victory.
1. Max Taam/John Gaston, 4:45:26
2. Cam Smith/Tom Goth, 4:54:26
3. Paul Hamilton/Sean Van Horn, 5:02:00
1. Jessie Young/Nikki LaRochelle, 5:42:38
2. Caroline Tory/Sarah Tory, 6:27:36
3. Jill Seager/Fanny Toorenburg, 6:44:17
1. Dean Hill/Lyndsay Meyer, 6:32:34
2. Laura Stamp/Benjamin Corwin, 6:34:01
3. John Spiess/Erin Spiess, 7:29:31
Men’s Masters (45+)
1. Dirk Friel/Tim Faia, 6:36:03
2. Dave Zink/Mike Hogan, 7:20:52
3. Chris Klug/David Borchers, 7:44:36
Gaston and Taam finished the modified course in 4:45:26, while Smith and teammate Tom Goth, both national team members, finished second, about nine minutes back. Paul Hamilton and Sean Van Horn were third in 5:02.
“The weather really defined the course today, between shortening the course and just the conditions, we were going up and down in,” Smith said. “The top five teams were kind of stuck together for probably the first half of the race. Then once we got to Highlands it kind of became a two-team race with us and then John and Max.”
An added element to this year’s race was it being the 2019 USSMA national championship for the team event. The first two of four total national championships were held in early January at Sunlight Mountain Resort near Glenwood Springs, with Smith taking the sprint title and Gaston the individual title.
According to Gaston, Saturday’s win gave him his 14th career national championship.
YOUNG, LAROCHELLE TAKE WOMEN’S TITLES
As much trouble as the men faced with trail breaking on Saturday, the women didn’t have it quite as rough.
“They had to do the trail breaking. We luckily had the trail broken for us, so it wasn’t so bad,” Aspen’s Jessie Young said with a laugh. “The rough part was going the extra distance on Midnight Mine to make up for not doing the bowl.”
Young, who is married to Taam, won her first Power of Four on Saturday. She won alongside Breckenridge’s Nikki LaRochelle, who now is a two-time winner of the event after also taking the 2018 title alongside teammate Lindsay Plant. Young and LaRochelle finished in 5:42:38 to win the women’s division by a large margin.
“This race is always hard,” LaRochelle said. “It’s just sort of a grind. You have to dig pretty deep and mentally stick with it. But it was good. We didn’t have any issues. We had a really clean race, I would say, and kept a good tempo the whole time.”
Caroline Tory and Sarah Tory, both Roaring Fork Valley residents, finished second among women with a time of 6:27:36. The Torys also finished second last winter. Jill Seager and Fanny Toorenburg were third Saturday in 6:44:17.
For Young and LaRochelle, this was more of a trial run. The duo will pair together in the team event at the skimo world championships, scheduled to get underway next week in Switzerland. Young won the 2019 individual national championship at Sunlight.
The Power of Four coed division went to Dean Hill and Lyndsay Meyer in 6:32:34. Laura Stamp and Benjamin Corwin were second (6:34:01) and John Speiss and Erin Spiess third (7:29:31).
YOUTH TAKES OVER IN POWER OF TWO
For the second year in a row, local teens Caden Klein and George Beck had the best time in the Power of Two, the shortened version of the skimo race that includes only Highlands and Aspen Mountain.
Both 16 and sophomores at Aspen High School, they finished Saturday’s Power of Two in 3:53:24. Much like with many of the elite Power of Four competitors, Saturday’s race was more of a practice run with the two also headed to world championships in Switzerland.
“The skiing was really fun,” Klein said of Saturday’s race. “There was some really deep snow. All in all, it was pretty fun. You just had to be careful with your skins.”
Klein won the individual national championship in the cadet men division at Sunlight.
As much of a chore as it was going uphill Saturday, the general consensus was the downhill parts were as good as they’ve ever been.
“Walsh’s and Bingo Glades (on Aspen Mountain) were as good as I’ve ever skied,” Gaston said. “I’ve never skied Bingo Glades in that good of snow in my life. It was amazing. That was for sure my best run down Bingo Glades ever.”
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